Awareness and check-ups for gender-related health should begin early. Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital, under Dr Duru Shah and Dr Sudeshna Ray, started Lighthouse, a comprehensive healthcare programme for adolescents. They address health problems related to lifestyle and maladjustment as well as gynaecological problems in girls such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which now afflict girls at a much younger age. Edited excerpts of an interview with Dr Sudeshna Ray, consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician, at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre:

What made Jaslok Hospital open this adolescent clinic at this point? Can you share some India-specific research that point to an urgent need for this?

Adolescence (10 to 19 years) is a phase of rapid changes in growth and development in physical, physiological and behavioural aspects. Worldwide they constitute about more than 1.2 billion, and makes up about 28% of Indian population i.e. 240 million. Girls account almost 45% of them i.e. 120 million. Mumbai population is estimated as 30 million. In the same ratio, Mumbai alone has estimated 3.5 million adolescent girls. India loses around $56 billion worth of productivity due to early adolescent pregnancy, child bearing, dropping out of school and joblessness.

What are the specific issues related to young girls?

Puberty is common to both girls and boys but it is more evident in girls because of the obvious, visible changes of growing breasts and onset of menstruation. Puberty in girls is a massive change in most of the families, because to many it is not only a physical change, it also a social change. Hence apart from the physiological challenges of growing breasts, menstrual pain, menstrual irregularity and hormonal disturbances, there are challenges of emotional and mental coping of peer and social pressures.

Are gynaecological treatments/interventions required for adolescent girls? What are the problem areas if any?

Onset of menstruation is a landmark event marking the end of puberty and beginning of adolescence in young girls. While menstrual pattern abnormalities are not uncommon or significant in the initial few years of the start, persistence of such abnormal pattern can be the earliest sign of hormonal imbalances leading to a number of problems in women at reproductive age group. Some common health concerns are dysmenorrhoea (pain during periods), menorrhagia (heavy and prolonged periods), PCOS (hormonal imbalance), hirsutism (unwanted hair in different parts of the body), obesity, acne, delayed puberty, absence of puberty, underdeveloped secondary sexual characteristics etc.

What is the age group and social segment will Lighthouse cater to?

Lighthouse will cater to young boys and girls from 11 to 21 years as they step into adolescence and also when they are struggling out of it in the initial years. It will cater to all segments of urban boys and girls and deal with all kinds of concerns which are common and unique to this group.

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